Lest we forget:
By Matt Prodger , BBC Newsnight, 25 February 2011
On Sunday Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Libya’s leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, appeared on Libyan state television telling protesters to clear the streets or face rivers of blood.
The contrast to his appearance as a guest speaker at the London School of Economics (LSE) two years ago could not have been more stark.
Having just donated £1.5m to the university to fund its Global Governance Unit, he was introduced in glowing terms by the university’s Professor David Held, who said:
“I’ve come to know Saif as someone who looks to democracy, civil society and deep liberal values for the core of his inspiration.”
But even Saif Gaddafi could not keep a straight face as he began giving a speech about democracy in Libya.
“In theory Libya is the most democratic state in the world,” he said to laughter from the audience, before chuckling and adding, “In theory, in theory.”
As a final embarrassment, the university has been forced to investigate allegations that parts of Saif Gaddafi’s LSE PhD were plagiarised.
The irony of its title – The Role of Civil Society in the Democratisation of Global Governance Institutions – is lost on no-one.
‘Failure to learn’
But Saif Gaddafi’s examiner, the renowned economist Lord Desai, says that he had earned the PhD, and that the LSE had been right to accept his donation.
His only regret, Lord Desai said on Thursday, was that Saif Gaddafi had failed to learn enough about democracy:
”I read the thesis, I examined him along with an examiner, he defended his thesis very, very thoroughly, he had nobody else present there, and I don’t think there’s any reason to think he didn’t do it himself.”
“This is over-egging the pudding. The man is evil enough – you don’t have to add that he’s a plagiarist as well.”
The LSE is not the only British institution Saif Gaddafi’s name has been mentioned alongside, he has cropped up in all manner of meetings and mutual connections.
He described Tony Blair as a family friend, although the former UK prime minister says he has only met him once since leaving office and has no commercial relationship with him.
Britain’s trade envoy, the Duke of York, has hosted Saif Gaddafi at Buckingham Palace, though a palace spokesman said he is no friend.
Then there is former business secretary Lord Mandelson, who met Saif Gaddafi a number of times – once at the Corfu villa of British financier Nat Rothschild.
In London, Saif Gaddafi has lived a playboy lifestyle. Two years ago he moved into a £10m house complete with suede-lined indoor cinema not far from an area of north London known as Billionaire’s Row.
The Libyan Investment Authority also owns properties in the city, on Oxford Street and at Trafalgar Square.
There has always been a thin line between Gaddafi money and Libyan money – one of the reasons that have made Saif Gaddafi so influential.
“The Gaddafi family controls everything in Libya and no deals are signed either for inward or outward investment without their approval,” Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski, who has written a book about the Gaddafi family and heads the All Party Parliamentary Group for Libya, told Newsnight.
“They have had up until now a total stranglehold on the economy. I haven’t seen anything like it around the world.”
The fact is there was always a good reason for cosying up to the man who until recently was considered the heir to the throne of an oil rich wealthy country.
Sooner or later the old man, Col Gaddafi, was going to go and his avowedly pro-Western, and apparently reformist, son would take the reins.
Only it does not appear to be working out that way, and those associated with him are now counting the cost.